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346 • Part III. Christian Morality: The Faith Lived

atheists, who may not consciously deny God’s existence, but live as if he

does not exist.


When God appeared to Moses on Mount Horeb, he said, “The place

where you stand is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). The sixth chapter of Isaiah

describes the prophet’s vision of God and hearing the angels sing, “Holy,

holy, holy is the Lord” (Is 6:3). Moses reacts to God’s holiness with awe,

a deep reverence for the all-embracing majesty of God. Isaiah responds

to God’s holiness with an awareness of the profound and infinite purity

of God. Both men undergo a spiritual transformation that they attribute

to their experience of God’s holiness.

The First Commandment is more than a reference to an abstract

idea of God. It is an announcement of the presence of the most holy

God, both in outward creation and within the human soul. His existence

does call for our faith.

Our surrounding culture is filled with many distractions that shut

out the majestic voice of our holy and glorious God. St. Augustine, com-

menting on his troubled youth, speaks of this experience with these

words, “You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept

me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been

at all.” But God was not simply a passive presence to Augustine, a diffi-

dent lover wondering what to do. Augustine tells us that God spoke with

a vigorous voice. “You called, you shouted, and you broke through my

deafness. You breathed your fragrance on me. . . . I have tasted you, now

I hunger and thirst for more” (

The Confessions

, bk. 10, no. 27).

This is the best context for appreciating the importance of the First

Commandment. As God did with Augustine, he does for us again—call-

ing, shouting, trying to break through our deafness, breathing his fra-

grance upon us.

Many, indeed, are listening. Numerous Catholics are seeking a deeper

relationship with God through daily Mass, frequent reception of the

Sacraments, the prayerful reading of Scripture, retreats, spiritual direc-